Keep it clean.
That’s the first piece of advice David Eyster, Custer County, Okla., farmer, gave to participants at the recent No-till Oklahoma Conference in Oklahoma City.
“Start with a clean field,” said Eyster, who farms land his grandfather homesteaded back in 1892. “Try to kill weeds long before you intend to plant.”
He recommends terminating a cover crop “early enough to allow time for a rain before planting. Give it at least 30 days,” he recommended.
Eyster said a no-till farmer needs to have his own sprayer to make certain he can make timely herbicide applications. “But it’s also good to have a custom operator or a neighbor as a backup in case of a breakdown or if you get overloaded.”
He said farmers have to know crop nutrient requirements. “Proper fertility means a healthy crop.”
Eyster said newcomers to no-till have to learn to manage residue, but he said the advantages residue offers far outweigh the challenges it might present to planting. “Summer crops tend to do better with residue,” he said. “Grain sorghum and cotton work well. That residue conserves moisture, keeps weeds down and keeps soils cooler.”
He said winter canola does not like residue. “It tends to send roots up into the mulch and could get some winter kill if roots are exposed.”
He recommended farmers use planters with a seed firmer. “Cut residue and soil to create a furrow at the proper depth. The planter should place seed consistently into the bottom of the furrow and the seed firmer should push soil around the seed. That helps get a uniform stand. It’s important to apply the proper amount of pressure.
“Slow down,” to plant, he said.
Eyster likes to orient his crops on North to South rows. “That way, most of the row is in shade either from the east or the west most of the day.”
He plants summer crops in 15-inch rows. “Make certain that row configuration meshes with harvest equipment.”
Picking the best crop to plant no-till is not easy since farmers have many choices, he said. “But whatever the crop, make a marketing plan first. Also, pick crops that you can alternate Roundup Ready and non-Roundup Ready varieties to prevent control problems with volunteers. Also, choose crops that allow you to use different herbicides with different modes of action to prevent herbicide resistance. And be aware of chemical carryover from one crop to the next.”
He said farmers should be careful about planting grain sorghum behind wheat that was treated with Finesse herbicide.
“Also, check on insurance availability and coverage levels.” He said corn may not be a good option in his county, since county average yield is less than 40 bushels per acre.
He said cotton could be a good choice in fields with weed problems because of Roundup Ready varieties.
He admits to making some errors. “I tried skip-row corn in 2005 and will not do that again. With 12,000 plants per acre, corn was not thick enough to put on just one ear per stalk. Each stalk had two ears and they were small. Also, with 36-inch rows and a 12-inch skip, crabgrass was heavy in the skip.”
He planted corn last year in 30-inch rows and made one-third more yield.
Sunflowers also adapt to no-till, but Eyster said they need more moisture at planting than does grain sorghum. “Also, farmers need to make certain they get a uniform stand with sunflowers so they can treat for head moth with one application.”
He’s tried scarlet peas, but had too little moisture to make a good crop. “I’d like to plant peas right next to the old crop so new plants can follow the old roots to moisture.”
He’s also planted cowpeas and is interested in canola as a winter crop. “We have seen interest in western Oklahoma in canola because we typically have more moisture in the winter than we do in summer. Also, canola has a deeper taproot than wheat.”
He recommends that farmers interested in planting canola on land they have not farmed before do a bioassay before committing to canola. He said planting canola in pots filled with soil from across the field will show if a residual herbicide harmful to the crop persists in the soil.
He said canola farmers need to watch for aphids in spring. “We also have Roundup Ready canola varieties.”
Eyster said residue management is an important aspect of no-till farming. Drills and planters come with various attachments to cut through old crop residue. “In some fields, farmers may want to mow stubble.” That may also extend the workday, he said. “Often we can start earlier and stay later when we mow and have less moisture in the stubble.”